News round-up: More strikes are on the way as UCU members vote for industrial action

University staff are to strike over pensions, pay and working conditions – and an imminent general election casts uncertainty over higher education policy


December election puts UK policy progress on hold

Times Higher Education, 01/11/2019, Simon Baker

News that a general election will be held in December may have finally given some people optimism that the great cloud hanging over British politics may at least be on the move, if not yet about to break up.

But, for higher education, an imminent poll now throws even greater uncertainty over a series of policies that have been sitting in the Westminster inbox for what already seems like an eternity.


‘Angry’ university workers vote in favour of industrial action

The Guardian, 31/10/2019, Sally Weale

Disillusioned university workers have voted in support of strike action on campuses across the UK following separate ballots over pensions, pay and working conditions.

The University and College Union (UCU) said the result was a serious indictment of the state of higher education, and demonstrated the depth of anger and frustration among those working in the sector, many of whom are on low-paid temporary contracts.


UK students spending less time studying, says survey

Times Higher Education, 31/10/2019, Ellie Bothwell

Students at UK universities are continuing to spend less time studying in and out of class, according to a major study.

The UK Engagement Survey 2019, conducted by Advance HE and based on the responses of 29,784 undergraduates at 31 institutions, found that just 44 per cent said that they spent 11 or more hours a week studying independently. This compares with 47 per cent last year and 52 per cent in 2016.


Dundee University principal suspended over rent row

BBC, 31/10/2019, Anon

Dundee University’s new principal has been suspended after a row over alleged non-payment of rent at the institution.

Prof Andrew Atherton was removed from his role on 13 September pending an investigation.


Glasgow to rate ‘collegiality’ for professorial promotions

Times Higher Education, 31/10/2019, Jack Grove

Becoming a professor requires having not just a sharp intellect, but equally sharp elbows, it is often claimed.

That kind of pushy and self-centred behaviour may, however, prove detrimental to those hoping to become a professor at one UK university that has introduced new promotion guidelines that require senior staff to demonstrate how they have helped others to succeed.


Students who have unconditional offers more likely to quit

The Guardian, 30/10/2019, Sally Weale

Students who go to university after receiving an unconditional offer before their A-level results are more likely to drop out in their first year, research shows.

Analysis by the Office for Students (OfS), the universities regulator, found that the dropout rate was 10% higher for students who accepted unconditional offers than would be expected had they received conditional offers.


Student housing told to fix ‘awful’ problems

BBC, 30/10/2019, Sean Coughlan

The universities minister has told a summit of student-accommodation providers to sort out the “awful and disappointing” problems that have seen more than 20 student housing schemes not completed on time.

Chris Skidmore summoned housing providers after students had been put into temporary accommodation at the beginning of the autumn term.


Students could tip the balance . . . or go out partying

The Times, 30/10/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Close attention will be paid to the student vote during the election campaign. Indeed students appeared to have played a part in the haggling over a date for polling day.

This is due to one of the 2017 general election’s more surprising upsets. Students were blamed for robbing the Conservatives of Canterbury, a solid Tory seat for decades. It went Labour in some style two years ago after the party’s share of the vote almost doubled to 45 per cent.


One fifth of universities could run out of money

The Times, 30/10/2019, Rosemary Bennett

One in five universities has been placed on a financial risk list by regulators who say that they are relying on overly optimistic forecasts of student numbers.

The Office for Students says that 71 universities or other institutions registered with it have been put on “enhanced monitoring” because it is concerned about their future finances. In most cases this is because their forecasts of “growth in student numbers [have] little or no supporting evidence about how that would be achieved”.


Regulator puts two-thirds of providers on ‘enhanced monitoring’

Times Higher Education, 30/10/2019, John Morgan

England’s new regulator has imposed “enhanced monitoring” requirements on two-thirds of institutions, while 13 other providers are in “a representations process” after being provisionally refused access to student loans.

The figures come in the Office for Students’ analysis of its first registrations process, published on 30 October. Providers must be included on the OfS’ register of providers for their students to access Student Loans Company funding


Racism against students ‘taken more seriously than staff abuse’

Times Higher Education, 30/10/2019, Anna McKie

Academics have accused universities of taking racial harassment of students more seriously than abuse of staff, after a report laid bare the prevalence of racism in the UK sector.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission accused institutions of being “oblivious” to the scale of the problem after its report, Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged, found that, although racism is widespread in higher education, victims rarely reported it because they had little confidence that it would be taken seriously.


Bristol University hires slavery history professor to see whether it needs to apologise for colonial past

Daily Telegraph, 30/10/2019, Camilla Turner

Bristol University has hired a professor of slavery history in an attempt to discover whether it needs to apologise for its colonial past.

The institution has commissioned Prof Olivette Otele, an expert in the history of colonialism in Britain and France, to carry out a two year research project into the involvement of the University of Bristol and the wider city in the transatlantic slave trade.


University of Birmingham apologises to staff not paid on time

BBC, 30/10/2019, Anon

The University of Birmingham has apologised for failing to pay some of its staff on time.

It is unclear how many people are affected, but the BBC spoke to several who said they were out of pocket.


Academics demand career breaks so they can save the planet from climate change

Daily Telegraph, 29/10/2019, Camilla Turner

Academics have demanded career breaks so they can save the planet from climate change as they warn that “humanity is on a precipice”.

Over 700 British professors and lecturers have signed an open letter to vice-Chancellors and research funding chiefs warning that “the very future of life on earth is in question” if “climate breakdown” is not addressed.


Fake university website for College of Suffolk shut down

BBC, 29/10/2019, Anon

A website promoting a fake university that highlighted a county’s links to Ed Sheeran and Harry Potter to try to dupe potential students has been shut down.

Suffolk Trading Standards said the made-up College of Suffolk in Ipswich offered degree courses in acting, musical theatre, dance and performance.


Security services fear the march of Beijing’s spies on universities

Sunday Times, 26/10/2019, Richard Kerbaj and Sian Griffiths

MI5 and GCHQ have warned universities to put national security before commercial interest as fears grow over state theft of research and intellectual property from campuses.

The agencies are concerned that a reliance on Chinese money and students, particularly postgraduates paying up to £50,000 a year in fees, makes some universities particularly vulnerable.


Oxford students vote to replace clapping with silent jazz hands

The Times, 25/10/2019, Rosemary Bennett

It is a time-honoured custom signalling approval, acclamation and enthusiasm, but students at Oxford University are to replace clapping at student union events with “silent jazz hands” amid fears that applause could trigger anxiety.

Officers at the student union argued that clapping, whooping and other loud noises presented an “access issue” for some disabled students who have “anxiety disorders, sensory sensitivity and those who use hearing aids”.


Nottingham Trent University expels student for ‘antisemitic’ dating app photo

Independent, 25/10/2019, Eleanor Busby

A student whose dating app profile picture featured a Palestinian flag photoshopped over the mouth of a sleeping Jewish man on the Underground has been expelled from his university.

The first-year had placed the image on his Tinder profile and it is thought that it was spotted by another student, who then posted it on Twitter where it was shared hundreds of times and widely criticised.


Students quit pods ‘not fit for humans’

The Times, 24/10/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Students are moving out of university “pod” accommodation, saying that the 8ft x 10ft en-suite rooms are “not fit for humans”.

Undergraduates at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol have been housed in 21 of the pods that were hastily installed in a car park last month to meet increased numbers. Many of the students arrived through clearing. The pods cost £150 a week.


Oxford professor failed to credit work of Chinese colleagues in award-winning book, panel rules

Independent, 24/10/2019, Eleanor Busby

An Oxford University professor committed “serious” misconduct when she failed to sufficiently acknowledge the work of Chinese collaborators in her award-winning book, a panel has ruled.

Anna Lora-Wainwright was told to make amendments to include the missing citations in Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China, for which she won a BBC prize last year.